PODCAST: Sebastian Junger on "War," "Restrepo" at the Brattle [MP3]

Trailer for Junger's documentary "Restrepo"

Juan Restrepo's job was to save lives. He wasn't able to save his own. His brothers weren't able to, either.

The U.S. Army medic was shot in the throat in Afghanistan, and tragically "bled out trying to tell the men around him how to save his life," recounts Sebastian Junger. "They couldn't do it. It destroyed those guys."

The outpost later named after Restrepo in Afghanistan's hellish Korengal Valley became the setting for both Junger's newest book, War, and his documentary, Restrepo, which won the Grand Jury Prize for documentary at Sundance in January. (Read Peter Keough's interview with Junger here, and his review of Restrepo here.)

War follows the 173rd Airborne Brigade at Restrepo over 2007 and 2008, when Junger joined them as an embedded reporter. At his June 7 Brattle Theatre appearance, the journalist and The Perfect Storm author spoke about what war in the Middle East really means to the guys fighting it.

Junger said War looks at the psychological and emotional experience of the soldiers: young men plucked from America and thrown into a hell where the daily grind was defined by sudden firefights and continuous flirtation with death, and punctuated by devastating loss.

But Junger reports that the most dominating force at Restrepo was the brotherhood that fused the men together. With their entire existence immersed in war, soldiers became indispensable to one another's survival. They came to be needed constantly, and under higher stakes than they would ever face at home. The platoon was so devastated by Juan Restrepo's death not because it epitomized the danger they faced daily, but because it was a time when they were needed and failed to deliver.

And this galvanizing agent of brotherhood didn't just keep the men alive. Junger says it caused some of them to prefer life in one of the world's deadliest locales to life in America. Junger mentioned a soldier named Brendan who, after returning to the U.S., was asked if he missed anything about Restrepo. "And Brendan said, 'Yeah, I miss almost all of it,' " Junger recalled.

The War passages Junger read offered other sometimes painful, sometimes amusing glimpses into the psyches of those on the frontline. For example, Junger reflects on the gallows humor that pervaded soldiers' conversation: "One pair of friends had a serious agreement that if one of them should die, the other would erase all of the porn on his laptop before the army could ship it back to his mom." 

DOWNLOAD: Sebastian Junger discusses War and Restrepo [MP3]

Recorded live at the Brattle Theatre, on June 7, 2010, courtesy of the Harvard Book Store; if you enjoyed this listening to this talk, check out the Harvard Book Store's calendar of upcoming events. To subscribe to our podcast, paste this RSS feed into your podcatcher or feed-reader of choice, or bookmark

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